Test Drive: 2009 Mazda RX-8 R3
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Unique bodywork and 19 wheels identify the R3 package.
Story and photos by David Haueter

The Mazda RX-8 is now in its sixth year of production but is still one of the most distinctive sports cars on the market with its rotary engine and swing out rear doors. Mazda designers made some minor cosmetic changes to the car for 2009, with new front and rear bumpers, a restyled front grill and larger exhaust pipes, but the big news for this year is the new R3 package. To appeal to hardcore drivers, Mazda has equipped the RX-8 with firmer Bilstein shocks, 19 forged alloys, and front cross-members that have been urethane-foam injected, which is said to enhance ride comfort while improving suspension control. Power output on the R3 is the same as every other RX-8 model with a manual transmission, with 232hp generated from its 1.3-liter two-rotor rotary engine.

Visually, the R3 also has some unique differences that set it apart from the standard RX-8 models. Besides the wheels, the R3 can be distinguished on the outside by a rear spoiler (which we're guessing is strictly cosmetic), side skirts and front bumper extensions which look like a splitter you'd find on a race car. The race-inspired theme extends into the cockpit, as the R3 is fitted with hip-hugging Recaro seats that are designed more for fast driving on a twisty road or race track than highway driving. MSRP on the RX-8 R3 is $32,600, which around $5,500 more than the base model RX-8 Sport.

Mazda has kept things pretty subtle with the cosmetic changes to the R3, as it doesn't look much different from the stock RX-8 aside from the wheels. Inside, the RX-8 R3 has a very good driving position, but you may find it a little too tight if you're on the tall side. At 6'5, I was able to find a good driving position, but it would be better if the steering wheel had a telescoping function (it tilts only) to move it away from the legs more, and the handbrake lever is in a poor position next to the gear lever. Aside from those complaints, the RX-8 R3 does have a good driving position, with the pedals placed right where they should be, a shift lever that falls readily to hand, and controls and displays placed logically, including a tach that sits right in the middle of the view through the steering wheel The Recaro seats in the R3 are excellent, as they're very supportive and feel like race seats, but we think many may find them to be too tight, particularly for extended stints at the wheel. One key advantage the RX-8 R3 has over competition is that the back seats are actually usable, which you wouldn't think at first glance, and there's also a surprising amount of space in the trunk.

The rotary engine in the RX-8 has its own unique character, and is all about high revs instead of torque. The engine doesn't make peak torque until 5,500rpm, so instead of getting that rush of power off the line, you have to wait until around 5,000rpm for things to start happening. Once you get there, there isn't a burst of speed, but rather a smooth and linear delivery of power from the rotary engine all the way up to its redline of 8,800rpm. You have to be careful when the engine is cold, as the car now has a warm-up period that gradually builds up to higher engine speeds as the engine warms up (similar to what BMW has with the M3), with lights around the tach that move from a 5,500rpm redline when cold to the maximum of 8,800 once up to operating temperature. Fuel economy is one issue to consider with the RX-8, as it only delivers around 22mpg on the highway.
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